When Your Antibiotics Stop Working, This Is What Happens

Antibiotics are prescription medications designed to fight off infections by destroying harmful germs and bacteria. In recent years, however, certain strains of bacteria have adapted to antibiotics and become much harder to destroy (via Cleveland Clinic). This is called antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria no longer respond to antibiotics. This is often caused by either overusing or misusing antibiotics. For instance, taking antibiotics too frequently is dangerous and will only allow bacteria to mutate and become resistant to certain types of medications.

In many cases, this means that certain illnesses and infections will be much more difficult to treat and may even require hospitalization. Without antibiotics, however, some conditions will no longer have any effective treatments. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 2.8 million people in the United States develop antibiotic-resistant infections every year, resulting in an estimated 35,000 deaths.

How to prevent antibiotic resistance

While these statistics may seem daunting, there are a few things you can do on an individual level to help prevent infections and antibiotic resistance. One way to protect yourself from antibiotic-resistant infections is to use antibiotics appropriately and sparingly (via WebMD). This means only taking antibiotics when you absolutely need them. Since antibiotics are often overprescribed, it's important to talk to your doctor to make sure that you truly need them to treat your condition. For instance, if your illness is caused by a virus, antibiotics won't be an effective treatment.

When you do need antibiotics, however, you should only take them as directed by your doctor. That means finishing the entire course of antibiotics. Failing to complete the treatment can increase the likelihood that the bacteria will adapt and become drug-resistant. It's also important to get vaccinated against diseases that are now commonly treated with antibiotics. Not only can this protect you from contracting diseases like whooping cough or tetanus in the first place, but it can also help prevent the infection from becoming resistant to antibiotics.